As African churches joined the rest of the world in marking International Women’s Day, pastors, gender experts, and activists called for a critical evaluation and strengthening systems to ensure gender justice and equality in churches and society.
In a virtual celebration, hosted by the All Africa Conference of Churches, speakers noted that, although efforts towards gender equality in Africa were on course, the outbreak of COVID-19 threatened the gains made so far.
“Despite the efforts… to combat the effects of COVID-19, women are still facing complex and interrelated challenges during this pandemic,” said Paula Likico, a youth coordinator at the Uganda Joint Christian Council.
This year’s theme is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” According to Rev. Dr. Lydia Mwaniki, Director for Gender, Women, and Youth at the All Africa Conference of Churches, the theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. She said 2021 was critical since it measured the progress made towards a universal commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world.
“COVID-19 has eroded some of the gains made to enhance gender equality as evidenced by the surge in domestic violence and adolescent and teenage pregnancies linked to the pandemic,” said Mwaniki.
Speakers in the celebrations noted that African churches were still lagging behind, especially in embracing women’s leadership.
“…women’s leadership in some churches in Africa is not valued. Churches are still operating as though they were in the first century. The lack of adequate female representation and highly qualified women leaders have been taken for granted,” said Dr. Kabonde Peggy Mulambya, former general secretary of the United Church of Zambia.
Likico said African religious leaders and governments need to support women and girls to build a better tomorrow. She urged older women to embrace the young ones through mentorship programs.
“African women want to make their voices heard and actively participate in the management of the health and social crisis, to act for society,” said Likico.
According to reports, women produce 50-80 percent of the world’s food and represent over 50 percent of the agricultural workforce, but 60 percent of the world’s chronically hungry are women and girls.
“It important that we interpret the scriptures correctly so all can have life in abundance. Our privileges should go to the education of girls,” said Anglican archbishop Martin Nyaboho of Burundi.
At the same time, Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, All Africa Conference of Churches general secretary, noted that a lot of strides had been made in the area, citing the journey of the ordination of women in the churches and the recent changing of the law by Pope Francis to allow women more roles in the church.
“We must not lose sight of the achievements we have made in the field of gender justice. There are also many men who are champions of gender justice,” said Mwombeki.